From 2006 – 2010 I lived and worked in Japan; 2 years in the remote countryside and 20 months in the busy metropolis of Tokyo. The two places and experiences were so vastly different that they felt almost like living in two countries, but in both situations I observed and absorbed a lot about what can contribute to daily happiness.
This is not to say that the Japanese are a particularly happy nation; according to the 2016 World Happiness Report published by the UN each year, Japan ranks 53rd in terms of happiness sentiment amongst its population. This is quite a bit lower than the UK (23rd), Canada (6th) and the US (13th).
I can see why Japan ranks so averagely. It’s true that just observing many sectors of the population leaves you a little depressed: the middle aged man who works stressful, high pressure 16 hour days and never sees his family, the teenager who is too shy to leave his room, the woman who married too young and not for love and who was forced to give up all her hopes and dreams to attend to the house and kids. These are stereotypes, yes, but all characters I encountered frequently during my time there.
At the other end of the scale are some of the happiest, most at peace and self-aware people I’ve ever met. Many parts of the culture are just set up and designed to make you feel content. Japan is also the place where I figured out a lot about what made me happy (and quite a bit about what didn’t – perhaps I’ll save that for another time!), so without further ado, here’s my personal list of what Japan taught me about happiness.
1. A Passion & Gratitude for Food: No deprivation, no guilt, just real food and smaller portions. Japan has a phenomenal food scene. Despite the abundance of fish on every menu, it didn’t matter that I was a vegetarian; I still really, really enjoyed the food. It was seasonal, fresh and appreciated. When you grow up surrounded by rice farms, you know how precious and difficult to harvest each grain is. The same can be said for the fruit, vegetables and fish that make up the diet, and not a spoonful is wasted or thrown away. Each month there is a new fruit in the supermarkets to try, and my coworkers would often bring in boxes of fruit or vegetables sent from relatives elsewhere in the country. We’d all share the food and it was glorious. We all know that food can make us happy; eating healthily, seasonally and sharing food without guilt or counting calories only enhances this pleasure.
2. Bathing (and nakedness) is Great. Continue reading